Brian Harman knew Saturday evening that sleep might be hard to come by, as much as he knew he needed it. He had been in this situation — the 54-hole leader at a major tournament — six years ago and knew the agonizing cost of a fitful night: a runner-up finish, months and then years of what-ifs, a career not on the margins but not among the ultra-elite.
He slept well enough this time. Harman, nestled atop the leaderboard at Royal Liverpool Golf Club since Friday, made a methodical march on Sunday to win the British Open by six strokes, finishing at 13 under par. With a final round defined more by get-it-done grit than star-turn splash, Harman held off a band of challengers whose tournament scores wound up swarmed around each other’s instead of close to his.
It was the largest margin of victory at a men’s golf major tournament since Bryson DeChambeau’s six-stroke win at the 2020 U.S. Open.
“I’ve always had a self-belief that I could do something like this,” Harman said. “It’s just when it takes so much time, it’s hard not to let your mind falter, like maybe I’m not winning again.”
“I’m 36 years old,” he added. “Game is getting younger. All these young guys coming out hit it a mile, and they’re all ready to win. Like, when is it going to be my turn again? It’s been hard to deal with.”
Sunday ended those doubts.
As the first pairing went off on Sunday, Harman had a five-stroke lead, a comfortable gap but not an insurmountable one, especially not at a tournament that in 1999 saw Paul Lawrie overcome a 10-shot, final-round deficit to win at Carnoustie in Scotland. That history aside, the greatest mystery for most of Sunday at a decidedly soggy Royal Liverpool seemed to be not whether Harman would win, but by how much.
Unlike Carnoustie, Royal Liverpool, hosting the British Open for the 13th time, has long been kind to the men who climbed the leaderboard early. With his victory, Harman became the seventh player to win an Open at the course after having led after two rounds.
“He won by six, so there’s nothing really any of us could have done,” said Jon Rahm, one of four players to tie for second.
Harman, who played in college at Georgia and turned professional in 2009, has been a reliably talented player on the PGA Tour, mustering 50 top-10 finishes before the Open. But despite having nearly $29 million in career earnings coming into Sunday at Royal Liverpool, where his performance won him $3 million, Harman was hardly seen as a headliner.
He had two career victories, the John Deere Classic in 2014 and the Wells Fargo Championship in 2017. The next month, in what had been his best showing at a major, he tied for second at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, where he lost to Brooks Koepka by four strokes. Ranked 26th in the world (and never higher than 20th) before his Royal Liverpool victory, he said he did not consider himself underrated.
Asked over the weekend what he considered, before Sunday, his greatest achievement in the sport, he leaned back in his seat, crossed his arms and turned his eyes away, a subdued tour stalwart turned Open contender thinking through professional golf’s version of a workaday résumé.
“This year will be the 12th straight year that I’ve made the FedEx Cup playoffs,” he replied after about five seconds.
His record in this year’s majors is enormously mixed, though he has now risen to the No. 10 ranking. He missed the cut at the Masters Tournament and at the P.G.A. Championship, and tied for 43rd at the U.S. Open. Then came Royal Liverpool, the course where he played his first British Open in 2014. Back then, Rory McIlroy won, and Harman tied for 26th.
He proceeded to miss the cut during his next four Opens. Coming into this one, before returning to the course in northwest England that had also found champions in players like Bobby Jones, Peter Thomson and Tiger Woods, he finished tied for 12th at the Scottish Open.
Harman’s odyssey through this Open began on Thursday, when his 67 put him in fourth. On Friday, he birdied the first four holes and made eagle on the last for a 65 that gave him sole command of the leaderboard. After a pair of early bogeys, his 69 on Saturday brought him into Sunday with a five-stroke lead over Cameron Young, and a six-shot advantage over Rahm, whose Saturday round was the best at any Open at Royal Liverpool.
The course had been overrun with hazards. Scores of bunkers that, as the 2022 Open champion Cameron Smith said, were effectively one-shot penalties. A newly crafted par-3 17th hole that so punished a U.S. Open winner that he suggested it be redesigned again. Sunday brought the most bitter dose of British Open weather: gusting winds and drenching rains, the course feeling at once like a sauna and a shower.
But a five-shot lead at sunrise, visibility of the sun notwithstanding, helps.
“He’s a very tough, experienced character,” Padraig Harrington, a two-time Open winner, said before Harman’s final round began. “Sometimes we see somebody leading a tournament and you kind of go, ‘Oh, is he going to hang on?’ I don’t think that’s the case with Brian Harman. Nearly every day he goes out on the golf course he’s like playing with a chip on his shoulder, like he’s fighting something. I think this is ideal for him.”
The raindrops were still plummeting when Harman stepped up to the tee. With his back to the nearby claret jug, he steadied himself, took one glance after another down the fairway and unleashed his left-handed swing. He would make par on the hole, avoiding a repeat of Saturday’s bogey. But he barely missed a par putt at No. 2, where even a police officer had turned away from the crowd to watch, to shrivel his lead. Young failed to convert a 14-foot birdie putt that would have narrowed it by another stroke.
Seven groups ahead, though, McIlroy was surging. He had begun the day at three under. After five holes, he was at six under and suddenly tied for second. Rahm was making pars, and Young, paired with Harman, had already bogeyed the first. By the time Harman’s ball was rolling across the third green, there were five players — McIlroy, Rahm, Young, Tommy Fleetwood and Sepp Straka — tied for second. But Harman’s margin remained as much as it was at the start.
Other potential rivals were nowhere near, not after the cut had sapped the leaderboard of much of its prospective star power. Most of those who remained did not pose severe threats. Scottie Scheffler, the world’s top-ranked player, finished the Open at even par. Wyndham Clark, the victor at last month’s U.S. Open, left Hoylake at one over, as did Smith. Koepka, who won this year’s P.G.A. Championship and was the runner-up at the Masters, was eight over.
At the fifth hole, a par-5 that had been the week’s easiest test, Harman’s tee shot flew 249 yards and crashed into bushes, positioning him just more than halfway to the pin.
That pin was where Rahm, the reigning Masters champion, began to make headway, tapping his ball for his first Sunday birdie. Once Harman made it to the green, an eventual 12-foot try for par failed, and when the fifth hole closed for the tournament, Harman’s lead was down to three strokes.
The suspense did not exactly linger.
He nudged it upward again on the par-3 sixth hole, where he holed a birdie putt from about 14 feet, and then again at No. 7, where he made a birdie from 24 feet.
Steadiness returned until Harman made a bogey on the par-3 13th hole that is a favorite of Royal Liverpool members. But the players closest to Harman were fast approaching the 18th green, and running out of time. McIlroy, who was looking for his first major tournament victory since 2014, missed a birdie putt there to finish at six under. Tom Kim soon left the last green, still stuck at seven under, just like Rahm, Straka and Jason Day would be, too.
Elsewhere on the course, Harman himself was edging toward turning the probable into the inevitable. He birdied the 14th hole with a putt that raced about 40 feet downhill into the cup. Another birdie followed on No. 15, moving his lead to six shots.
The rain kept coming. Harman maintained his march. A parade of defeated players headed toward the clubhouse. The claret jug’s engraver prepared.
It would soon be time to add Harman’s name.